Saturday, September 26, 2015

Thousand Pieces of Gold --by Ruthanne Lum McCunn

Fiction / Historical

352 pages
5 Stars

I first read this book shortly after it came out in 1981, and I loved it. I've never forgotten it, have loaned my copy out, and replaced it, at least 4 times. I recently bought the New Edition, which contains additional information, and am so glad I did.

In rereading the book, I realized I had remembered certain scenes accurately – and some that didn't exist at all ;-).

Lalu Nathoy/Polly Bemis was a real woman who was sold by her father to bandits, smuggled into the US and, as the slave she was, found her way from San Francisco to Portland to Warrens, Idaho where her owner used her in his saloon as a 'bar girl' and where she became known as Polly.

Little is known of her life in China, and McCunn does a marvelous job of conveying the 'what might have happened.' Girls had little to no value in China, except to marry into a higher level of society if at all possible, thereby bringing some monetary relief to her family. To this end, many first born girls of even peasant families, had their feet bound. Lalu's feet were bound, and then unbound when she was needed to work in the fields to help her father. Although her feet never returned to 'normal' she was able to walk long distances and do field work on them.

Bandits came to her village, and she was stolen. The leader gave her father two bags of seed, thereby changing it from a theft to a sale. Lalu began her journey to probably Shanghai where she was smuggled aboard a ship bound to San Francisco. From there, she went north until eventually reaching Warrens, Idaho, as the slave of Hong King. There is a myth about gaining her freedom, the truth as we know it is that no one knows how she ended up free. We do know she married her benefactor, Charlie Bemis, and lived many years in the Salmon River area.

I think McCunn did a tremendous job showing the cultures of China and pioneer Idaho in this book. Yes, there were areas I would have liked to see expanded, and undoubtedly as you read it, there will be areas you wish were in more depth, but over all, this is a fascinating, and accessible story. I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in our history, or the history of the Chinese in our country. Although it is an adult book, it is suitable for those in Junior High School.

It's a good read, and you're bound to learn something!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World --Jack Weatherford

Nonfiction / History
352 pages
4 Stars

I think the title is somewhat misleading, it wasn't just good old Genghis who changed the world, but his sons and grandsons. And change it they did, without a doubt. Did they change it as much as stated in this book? I don't know. I also don't know enough to put forth an intelligent argument for or against.

What I do think is this should have been written as two books, Volume I on Genghis (who dies fairly early in this book) and Volume II on the rest of the crowd. I have read a few books on Genghis, and while this book does bring to light some heretofore-unknown tidbits, it doesn't tell nearly as much as I'd hoped, especially from Weatherford. I've also read a couple of books about Kublai, and again, this book seemed to gloss over some fascinating areas. Two books, each in the 400-500 page range would have been a treat most rare.

I won't get into the "who invented noodles first" – Mongols or Europeans argument? From what I've read just about all agricultural communities that grew wheat or a similar grain, came up with a form of noodles. And also, from what I've read, the Mongols had a real antipathy toward blood and raw meat, and I can't help but wonder about them placing meat between them and their horses to tenderize it. Between the horse and the saddle would seem to be a. unbalancing, and b. too iffy to rub sores on the horse. I believe they did put milk in bags tied to their saddles to beat it into butter or yogurt, or at least fermenting it. I can picture them doing the same with the meat to tenderize it, but cooking it later.

I absolutely loved the parts where Weatherford talked about having been there, seeing the places, being with the locals who explained various things to him, such as why horses would go in this direction, how to tell if the ice is thick enough to ride across, etc. I also appreciated the maps. Really appreciated the maps!

All in all, if you're interested in Genghis Khan, read this book. But don't stop when you put the book down. Try some of John Man's books; he, too, has been there. This book is easily read, it is not a textbook, it is very accessible to the average person, and the history buff will, I'm sure, enjoy it. I did. There are several excellent books out there about Genghis, and this is a good one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Perilous West: Seven Amazing Explorers and the Founding of the Oregon Trail --by Larry E. Morris

Nonfiction / History

270 pages
5 Stars

The Mountain Men were my childhood heroes. While other girls dreamed of princes and castles and unicorns or horses, I dreamed of living in the forest, trapping beaver, evading unfriendly Indians (though I was sure I'd be welcome by all). While my friends took riding lessons, I roamed the woods. I dreamed of being John Colter, Hugh Glass, or Sacagawea (at that time, I had no idea Marie Dorion even existed).

Now that I've reached an age where wandering the woods, and living in childhood dreams, are not practical, I do my dreaming in history books. Because I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and spent a great deal of time in the Oregon Historical Society Museum, it is only natural that I have an affinity toward books about the opening of The Oregon Country.

The Perilous West: Seven Amazing Explorers and the Founding of the Oregon Trail by Larry E. Morris tells the stories of Ramsay Crooks, Robert McClellan, John Hoback, Jacob Reszner, Edward Robinson, Pierre Dorion, and Marie Dorion. Although the book focuses on these seven people, it is also about the journey of the Wilson Price Hunt expedition or as they were known, the Astorians as they traveled from St. Louis, Missouri to Astoria, Oregon.

The narrative does not stop with the arrival at Astoria, but continues on until the stories of the seven are told, with many other stories woven into the fabric of their lives to bring life and color to those seven. Those people were a hardy lot. And their stories are of courage beyond imagining.

While this book was, I am fairly certain, written for the academic, it is also easily accessible to the casual reader, or history buff. It offers an excellent opportunity to read about the opening of the West after the time of Lewis and Clark, the perils these people faced, and overcame. Usually overcame.

I would have liked to have maps scattered throughout the book. I am fairly conversant in the geography of the areas he wrote about, but maps would have been helpful. Just simple line drawings. And I would have loved to have found footnotes instead of endnotes. Put the bibliography in endnotes, but the interesting facts in footnotes.

I have not read any of his other books. Fortunately, that situation is easily corrected. I highly recommend this book for anyone with an interest in the Oregon Country. If his other books are as well researched as this one, and as well written, and I see no reason to think otherwise, they will be well worth my time and money.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Googolplex --by KG Johansson

Fiction / Science Fiction-Fantasy / Speculative
210 pages
4 Stars

I was furnished a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I read fiction for one reason – to escape my own reality, and this book certainly took me out of my reality into one of space travel, multiverses, and obsession. It is a different take on the boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl leaves type of story.

Jack survives the upheavals, works for a new lord, sees the lord's daughter, Rachel, and falls in love. He quite literally stalks her. She notices, and one night seduces him. His fantasies and dreams take flight—he's in love, and he's sure she's in love with him. Puppy love at its best. They will marry, have a family, he will inherit from her father, and all is well in his world until the next day when he's fired for no apparent reason and not allowed on the property again.

The book opens on a space ship, just before landing on a new planet to be colonized, and one is led to believe this will be a rollicking space opera. Soon, we realize our hero is not. After a year or so on this bleak planet, and dreams he can't quite understand, Jack and a few others return to Earth. Jack goes to the place where all his memories are stored, retrieves them, and goes to his palatial home, modeled after Hatshepsut's mausoleum. He discovers he is wealthy beyond measure (no more young serf is he), and that he longs to find his one, only, true love—Rachel.

With help from his multi friend (an alien from the multiverse), Jack learns to travel both mentally, and physically, looking for his true love, for surely, there is another Rachel, somewhere, that he can love and be loved by, if only he can find her. Nothing will get in the way of his obsession or its hoped-for conclusion. Not when he meets Rachel as she is, and she has no memory of him, none at all and he doesn't like the woman she became; not when he goes back in time and discovers the reason of his firing; nothing, not even death will stop his search.

This book is well-written, and an excellent, well-crafted story. For me, it became a tad tedious during the second half, hence 4 stars not 5. I wanted Jack to grow up (after all, he was 700 years old by then), put his big boy boxers on and get a life. But that would have been my story, not Jack's. And Jack suffers the worst of all possible ailments. He is obsessed, obsessed by a love that never existed.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Speaking At A Time/Hablando A La Vez --Amelia Diaz Ettinger


96 pages
5 Stars

This book was a gift, by a person who knew I loved poetry, but had no idea about my passion for poetry in two languages! I keep hoping someday I will learn a second language, and how better than by reading poetry? How better than by reading Hablando A La Vez?? English on the left, Spanish on the right.

I don't know which is my favorite poem, but I keep going back to A Poem for Lorca. All of these poems speak to me, some just a little more insistently than others.

There are poems about the town of Caguas, where the author was raised, Sundays with her father at the racetrack, and poems trying to explain the word 'heritage' to her daughter.

There is love in these poems, there is loss, there is grief, and there are smiles. Some of the poems reminded me of one of my favorite writers, John Phillip Santos. The whole book is honest and strong. This is a book I will keep on my poetry shelf, and read often. Then, again, I may keep it by my bed where I can reach it on those nights I can't sleep and wish to talk with a friend.